There are many triggers for headaches and migraines. Common ones include:
- red wine
- bright lights
- loud noises
- hormonal changes with menstruation
and the list goes on and on.
The question I am asking today though is – are these the cause of your pain or the trigger for your pain?
Recent research has shown that the cause of headaches and migraines is a sensitised brainstem. Within the brainstem, the trigemino cervical nucleus (TCN) becomes overstimulated and sensitised. It is this sensitisation which is the actual cause of your headache or migraine.
In a way this area of the brainstem becomes like me when I have not had enough rest or sleep. It is grumpy and tends to over react to any addition information coming in. For me it might be my kids who pester me for a treat that sets me off.
For the TCN it can be any of a number of factors that are pushing it over the edge and giving you a headache or migraine. So these other inputs (wine, food, stress etc) are not the cause of your headache or migraine, they are the trigger that pushes you over the edge and into a cycle of pain and other symptoms.
For some people their TCN is so overstimulated, all the time, they have constant headache or migraine. They don’t need a trigger to push them over the edge, because they are always over the threshold level for pain and symptoms.
Now why is the TCN overstimulated and sensitised in this way? One of the main inputs into this area of your brainstem is the upper 3 levels of the neck. Information from this area is filtered through the TCN and brainstem and into the brain.
If there is a problem in the upper 3 levels of the neck then this can be the cause of the headaches and migraines that people experience.
That is why at Bayside Headache Clinic we believe that everyone who suffers from chronic headaches and migraines should get an examination of the upper 3 levels of their neck by someone who has specialised training in this area (see the therapist page for more information on Michael’s training to assess and treat disorders of the upper neck for headache and migraine).